Tom Davies explores the boardroom politics causing trouble at Wrexham, Port Vale and Rushden & Diamonds
Few clubs can have attracted such a remarkable string of inappropriate suitors as Wrexham in recent months. To a backdrop of winding-up orders and threats of disqualification from the Conference play-offs, an extraordinary soap opera has been playing out in the battle for ownership of the club, which now has a fighting chance of a happy ending as supporters stand poised to take control.
The Wrexham Supporters’ Trust is currently undertaking due diligence with a view to acquiring the club and the Racecourse Ground after a strife-wracked season. The saga began in earnest in November when the notorious former Chester City chairman Stephen Vaughan, who oversaw that club’s demise and is barred from holding company directorships, told the Chester Leader that he was behind a consortium looking to take over the club. It soon emerged that this consortium, named Van Morton Investments, was not even registered at Companies House. Its “bid” was abandoned in February. Vaughan – who was convicted for a VAT fraud while in charge of Widnes Vikings rugby league club – has since been jailed for affray and assaulting a police officer.
Next up came the hotelier Stephanie Booth, whose offer for the club was accompanied by great fanfare and declarations of willingness to work with supporters. The fact that she too was barred from being a company director until February next year, over the collapse of a previous business, was a bit of a hitch, and relations with fans soured. Even though she exhorted fans to donate to a takeover bank account, and urged the trust to clear the club’s tax debt, no concrete details of her bid were ever forthcoming and Wrexham called off negotiations.
Though the club found the money to pay off their tax debt in April, enabling them to compete in the Conference play-offs (where they lost to Luton), trouble hadn’t gone away. Another prospective takeover emerged from a consortium led by the club’s former commercial director Jon Harris and Colin Poole. But Poole too was barred from being a company director and had been struck off as a solicitor, having been implicated in the collapse of Claims Direct in 2004. He was subsequently (and non-violently) confronted at a public equestrian event at his Shropshire mansion by supporters from the Dismal Jimmy fanzine, which was followed by Poole’s withdrawal from the consortium.
Another expression of interest from businessman and former UKIP candidate Stephen Cleeve was also rejected so, finally, the trust got its chance. Should its takeover succeed, the tasks ahead will be considerable. The club is leaking money, though the trust has built up almost £400,000 of its own, and hopes a community share issue will generate another £230,000. “We have said that we will need about £1 million to run the club next season,” says WST chair Richard Owen.
There’s boardroom turmoil aplenty at Port Vale, with two directors voted off the board at a recent Emergency General Meeting, fans orchestrating boycotts, lingering debts of between £2m and £3m, and a power struggle over local businessman Mo Chaudry’s high-profile bid for the club.
Chaudry – with some fan support – has been campaigning to oust the existing board led by the unpopular Bill Bratt. A vote of no-confidence was passed at an EGM in early June, but attempts to vote off the board were more mixed. Only two of the five directors – Peter Jackson and Stan Meigh – were booted out while Bratt remained in charge (just – with 51.07 per cent of the vote). Vale fan and Chaudry ally Mark Sim was elected, however, though he has yet to accept, while a few days later new manager Micky Adams announced his intention to join the board and buy £50,000 worth of shares. This was “purely for football reasons”, he insisted, although his investment has been sponsored by the ousted Meigh.
Discontent has been simmering for some time. Bratt, who took over in 2003, has seen his popularity plummet as the club have declined. Into this vacuum has come property developer Chaudry, loudly trumpeting his £1.21m share offer. Backing Chaudry has its risks for supporters who, though they have various protest and fan groups, have no organised trust. Bratt’s determination to cling to power has, however, made him the focus of protest.
Grim times at Rushden & Diamonds, after a turbulent season in which they had five points deducted for financial misreporting, as well as a boardroom clearout. As WSC went to press the club was facing a winding-up order, due to be heard on June 13, filed by local company Cloverdale Catering for a sum thought to be around £60,000.
Fans have been raising funds (www.saverdfc.com/blog) but have been frustrated by the lack of clear information from the club. They have seen plenty of administrative turbulence in the past season, starting with the arrival last December of Gary Calder as chairman, alongside father-and-son team Steve and Liam Beasant and their company, PB Devs.
While ex-chairman Keith Cousins claimed he left the club debt-free, things began to go seriously wrong by March when it transpired that players were not being paid on time, and PB Devs hadn’t even been set up as a trading company. Calder then quit as chairman and Liam Beasant replaced him.
The size of the club’s overall debt is thought to be around £750,000 but little progress appears to have been made with the club’s creditors, resolving the debt or ownership issues, and the current administration have done little to win fans’ confidence. Rushden’s short-lived spell as an upwardly mobile Football League club seems like a time ago now.
From WSC 293 July 2011